Austin Is Turning To Hotels And The Austin Sobering Center To House Homeless COVID-19 Patients

3 hours ago

City and county officials have set aside hotel rooms and possibly the Austin Sobering Center to quarantine homeless Austinites who may have COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Travis County Commissioners will vote Tuesday to amend the Sobering Center's contract to allow it to function as a quarantine site. The city has set aside $720,000 to bolster the center's $1.1-million budget in the event that officials decide to use it for quarantining.

Since 2018, the Sobering Center has helped divert people who are intoxicated from emergency rooms or jails. Now the city has asked that the joint program with the county be used to stage self-isolation and quarantine areas for Austinites experiencing homelessness. Today, the county could vote to boost the center's budget to $1.8 million a year to support that request.

With the approval, the Sobering Center would also immediately divert its operation toward the quarantine effort.

The city says it's also finalizing agreements to use hotel rooms for quarantine or isolation areas as well. 

Last week, Austin Public Health helped Salvation Army Austin move one of its clients who had tested positive for COVID-19 to a hotel room. That client was sharing a living space with 19 other people. The city says it helped move those people exposed to the virus to separate hotel rooms as well. 

A memo dated last Friday said the City of Austin had finalized an agreement to lease the Crowne Plaza Hotel at I-35 and Highway 290, which has 292 rooms. The memo says the city could also use rooms at the Rodeway Inn, after it closes the deal it began negotiating in November. The hotel has 87 rooms, but it would take four weeks to retrofit rooms after the city finalizes the deal on April 17.

The strategy comes as the city is also weighing how to best address the cohort of Austinites who are perhaps most at-risk: those above the age of 60.

Austin Public Health announced a plan Monday to provide a 100-bed temporary shelter for people staying at nursing homes with COVID-19 who do not need to be hospitalized.

Roughly half of the COVID-19 cases in Austin-Travis County are people between the ages of 20 and 40.

Service providers for Austin's homeless have largely had to shut down operations in the downtown area, which has crippled the capacity of providers who provide them with food, clothing and housing assistance. Those relying on volunteers have had to shutter or restrict services as a result of the city and county's shelter-in-place orders. Facilities like the Salvation Army's downtown shelter and the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless have seen staff taper off, as well.

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at aweber@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it. Your gift pays for everything you find on KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.